Nicola Sturgeon has put Scotland on course for a new independence vote by autumn 2018 to prevent the country following the rest of the UK out of the EU, as the shockwaves from the Brexit vote threatened to bring an end to the United Kingdom.
Scottish voters backed Remain by 62 per cent to 38 per cent, and the First Minister said it would be “democratically unacceptable” if the country was taken out of the EU against its will.
While not calling for a referendum outright, the Ms Sturgeon said that the Scottish Parliament would begin preparing legislation for a second vote and indicated that it was “highly likely” that Parliament would back plans for a fresh plebiscite.
Following the timetable set out by David Cameron on Friday morning, which could see his successor activating Article 50 to take Britain out of the EU by October, Ms Sturgeon said that the UK would then be on a “two-year path to the EU exit door”.
“If Parliament judges that a second referendum is the best or only way to protect our place in Europe it must have the option to hold one within that timescale,” she said in a statement in Edinburgh on Friday morning.
“That means we must act now to protect that position.”
In advance of any vote, Ms Sturgeon called for Scotland to be fully involved in the renegotiation of Britain’s relationship with the EU, and said she had spoken to London mayor Sadiq Khan who will also be seeking a seat at the negotiating table.
London, like Scotland, voted firmly for Remain and a powerful Holyrood-London axis may now push in renegotiations with the EU for Britain to remain within the Single Market.
"Although we will be outside the EU, it is crucial that we remain part of the single market,” Mr Khan said in a statement yesterday. “Leaving the single market of 500 million people - with its free-trade benefits - would be a mistake. I will be pushing the Government to ensure this is the cornerstone of the negotiations with the EU. It is crucial that London has a voice at the table during those renegotiations, alongside Scotland and Northern Ireland.”
Ruth Davidson, the leader of the Scottish Conservatives, said she shared Ms Sturgeon’s disappointment at the result but said that a second referendum would further destabilise Scotland.
“The 1. 6 million votes cast in this referendum in favour of remain, do not wipe away the 2 million votes that we cast less than two years ago,” she said. “And we do not address the challenges of leaving the European Union by leaving our own Union of nations, our biggest market and our closest friends.”
Scotland rejected independence in its September 2014 referendum, by a margin of 55 per cent to 45 per cent.
Concerns over the future integrity of the UK were also felt in Northern Ireland, where Deputy First Minister Martin McGuiness called for a referendum on a united Ireland as it became clear Britain had voted for Brexit in the early hours of Friday.
Sinn Fein’s Mr McGuiness said that a vote to leave would “run counter to the democratic wishes of the Irish people” after Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU by a margin of 56 per cent to 44 per cent.
However, a border poll was ruled out by First Minister Arlene Foster and Northern Ireland Minister Theresa Villiers.
Meanwhile, the Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny said that parliament would be re-called on Monday to discuss the implications of Brexit. Mr Kenny reassured Irish and British citizens that there would be “no immediate changes to the free flow of people, goods and services between our islands”.
Remain campaigners warned in the run up to the vote that Brexit would require the re-establishment of border controls between Northern Ireland and the Republic, as the 310-mile boundary between the two countries would become an external EU border.
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